The Education For All programme has received a major boost in the Andes region with education unions winning breakthrough commitments from their governments to enter into formal consultation processes on how the programme will operate.
The 2000 Dakar Framework for Action emphasised that EFA goals could only be reached when governments included teachers’ unions in the development of national education policies. Many governments have been reluctant to formally engage with unions in the development of their education policies. But, the teachers’ unions of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru have won agreement from their governments to enter into formal consultation processes on education policy and development. “For a long time we’ve been calling for a serious dialogue with the government,” explained Jorge Sanchez, International Secretary of SUTEP, EI affiliate in Peru. “The process started three years ago, but the dialogue broke down because the discussions were vague – there were no commitments and no obligations. The major change came in September 2004 when the government created an official National Forum of Consultation on education policies.” SUTEP is represented on the Forum which meets once a month. Jorge Sanchez says: “The Forum has transformed the dialogue from ad-hoc consultation – often convened at the very last moment – to a formal and positive dialogue on immediate and long-term education issues. This is the fundamental difference. And we take the National Forum very seriously.” The union acknowledges that the National Forum does not represent a single ‘magic’ solution to its country’s education challenges. But it is an important start. Agreement through dialogue In Bolivia, the CTEUB has also achieved major concessions on consultation. Although the Bolivian government has not yet introduced a formal consultation process, the union and the government are close to reaching an agreement. The government has initiated a process of consultation with civil society organisations on education that will culminate in the creation of a National Conference on Education. In preparation for the conference, in 2004 CTEUB took the issue to its 96,000 members to debate and try to reach a consensus. It did this with the support of the EI-initiated EFA programme. CTEUB drafted a proposal, distributed 17,000 copies and discussed it in regional seminars. In December 2004, CTEUB’s national conference adopted an amended version of the proposal that will guide the union in its discussions with the government. “This is a new process for us,” says Jaime Rocha Rodriguez of CTEUB: “We haven’t given up our principles, but we have broadened our approach from ‘protest’ to ‘proposal’. We expect the government to respond positively to this major step.” “The Education For All programme now has a real meaning for our members,” says Teresa Bolaños, vice president of the teachers’ union UNE of Ecuador. “In 1990, after Jomtien, EFA was just of concern to government officials operating at the international level. But, now our members see its importance and are working to achieve its goals. They’re very committed to making sure that EFA is a success in Ecuador.” At the union’s National Congress in June 2005, two days have been set aside to discuss and debate how best to implement the EFA programme. The UNE has recently signed an agreement on EFA with the government, and the union is campaigning for its members to back the EFA programme. Governments and unions in the Andes region face many critical challenges in education. Although school attendances are relatively high, more than 85% for basic education, the overall quality of education remains poor. The teachers’ unions are campaigning to ensure that everyone has access to high quality public education. In these countries, the wealthy can afford to pay for additional private education but ordinary families must cope with overcrowded classes and outdated curricula and materials. Even where basic education is available, governments are demanding that parents pay for education resources that should be provided by the state. The UNE is undertaking a study into how much these extra expenses are costing families, particularly for families with children in primary education. A further major challenge for the teachers’ unions is the education of the indigenous populations who are a large group within the Andes’ population. Educating children in their native language is of major importance to the unions because it vastly improves the learning opportunities of the children. In Bolivia, major progress has been made with the government developing specific curricula for the education of its native peoples. The teachers’ unions are increasingly aware of the importance of the rights of indigenous peoples. In Peru, SUTEP has allocated resources and appointed an officer to concentrate on indigenous issues. For education unions in the region, this represents a major development. It demonstrates that they see the rights of their indigenous peoples as an important priority. This article first appeared in Worlds of Education Issue 13: May 2005